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The Senior President of Tribunals’ Annual Report 2019

The Senior President of Tribunals’ Annual Report was published on 30 October 2019. A copy of the full report can be accessed: here.  

The first report by the current Senior President was published in 2016.   This year, the report is later than usual because of additional published material relating to programmes of reform.  The last report was published in May 2018, which we analysed in a previous post in our Knowledge Centre: here.

Details of the reforms will continue to develop as the Chambers learn and reflect on the pilot schemes and projects.  The report reads:

“Our new system will be based around a core of reusable components that will deliver: 

  • A digital bundle of documents, 
  • Evidence sharing with users, Government agencies and both private and public sector bodies, • Digital, telephone and video-enabled case management by judges and their authorised officers who are trained with and supervised by their judges, 
  • Fully video (virtual) hearings and continuous online resolution where the credibility and reliability of oral evidence is not the determining issue and in particular where early neutral evaluation of the documentary materials can lead to earlier resolution without the need to attend a court or tribunal building, and • New front-loaded preparation and process that is digitally recorded with easy to understand rules, directions, guidance and reasons”.

The report speaks of further integration between judiciaries and provides an overall positive review of the last year:

“Last financial year, like every other, contained both financial and workload pressures. Despite these and the ever-changing nature and volume of our work, this was our best performing year since the creation of the unified tribunals in 2007” 

Upper Tribunal – IAC

The President of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) Sir Peter Lane reports at pages 19-20.  The report refers to the ‘shortfall in the number of judges’ but identifies an anticipated significant increase in, which should have now taken place, given the increase was due summer this year.

The work of the group of lawyers within the UTIAC is recognised.  The report recognises that ‘much of the work formerly carried out by UTIAC judges, in dealing with such matters as applications for adjournments and directions prior to hearing, is now being successfully undertaken’ by a team of lawyers.

The report concludes with a reminder of how important complying with directions and acting appropriately is:

“All who practise in this field know the work can be difficult and demanding, at both a legal and a human level. The vast majority of practitioners discharge their professional responsibilities assiduously. However, in order to ensure that this majority can safely enjoy the societal recognition they deserve, professional regulators must be prepared to deal robustly with those who standards fall short. In this regard, UTIAC, like the High Court, may call for an explanation from those whose behaviour is adjudged to be problematic, with a view to referring the individual to the relevant regulator, where it is appropriate to do so. I am particularly grateful to Fiona Lindsley for acting as the co-ordinating and liaison judge on these issues”. 

First-tier Tribunal – IAC

The President of the First Judge Michael Clements of the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber (IAC) reports at pages  44-47. The report acknowledges that there may well be changes in the procedure rules to deal with the pilot scheme currently operating.  It is hoped this will be fully operational by the end of 2020. The report confirms that every stage of proceedings has been considered.   

Further delegation of powers is expected to make the system even more efficient. Further recruitment of Judge’s will hopefully stop hearing centres ‘operating below profile’. 

The report reflects on recent developments in those using the system:

“Last year, I mentioned that the guidance in the case of AM (Afghanistan) v SSHD & Lord Chancellor [2017] EWCA Civ 1123 had caused us to look again at how we identify vulnerable persons before their substantive hearings. We have now modified our pre-listing forms to better enable us to identify such persons and have taken steps to ensure that there is increased awareness of how the Tribunal can provide assistance when it is appropriate to do so”.

It is hoped a new listing questionnaire will identify vulnerable persons to stop the necessity for adjournments.  The automatic ‘auto-delisting’ process has now been rolled out across the country.  

Video hearings have been tested at Birmingham, Glasgow and Taylor House Hearing Centre.  The report concludes that ‘trials worked well’. There is now a pilot at Newport Hearing Centre.

What will be the impact of Brexit? 

Referring to the implications of departure from the EU the report reads: 

“EU-Exit remains imminent and although we are still not informed fully as to what this will mean or the implications for FtTIAC in terms of workload. We will, however, be ready to meet the exciting challenges that the next year will bring.”

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